AMIDST the palpable tension in the All Progressives Congress (APC) over its leadership ahead of March 26 convention, governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, on Wednesday, gave a blow by blow account on why President Muhammadu Buhari moved against Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State as chairman of the caretaker/ extraordinary convention planning committee (CECPC).
Featuring on the programme on Channels Television, Politics Today, Governor el-Rufai recalled the series of meetings the president held with governors where he issued a directive for the commencement of events that would culminate into APC convention on March 26.
He said the presidential directive became imperative following ambivalence of the interim leadership on the plans to hold the intraparty exercise meant to elect substantive national officers. el-Rufai noted that the non-committal of the leadership to the plan to hold the convention became more curious when it unilaterally chose the March 26 date for the exercise without carrying along other critical stakeholders, including some of his colleagues.
The Kaduna State governor, who confirmed that he was authorised by the new APC leadership to shed light on developments in the party on the television, gave a background on the dramatic twist of events, alleging the existence of members of a Fifth Columnist in the party.
“In the last couple of weeks, the Progressives Governors’ Forum led by the governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, held several meetings among ourselves and with the president on the forthcoming convention of the APC. I administered Abuja for four years and nothing goes on in the town with me not knowing. There were some elements within the party that are bent on ensuring that the convention does not take place.
“The national convention was supposed to take place last year November or December. Finally, the date of February 5 was announced and no concrete step was taken to actualise that. Even with the unilateral announcement of March 26, we governors began to raise signals that there were elements in the party leadership as well as some governors that are working together to ensure that that March 26 date is not feasible,” he said.
Justifying the move that ousted Buni from office on Monday, el-Rufai said it would have posed a major setback for the APC if it further prevaricated on the planned convention because of other crucial programmes under the 2023 political transition timetable. “If it is missed, the following Saturday is the beginning of Ramadan. This means that we are not likely to have the convention until May, after Sallah.
“We are having the presidential convention in May based on the INEC timetable, but we have already lost one month. This really made us be very concerned. Then, we in the Progressives Governors’ Forum demanded to see Mr President, alongside some leadership of the party. We met the president on February 22. “We made it known to him (Buhari) steps that needed to be taken if we are to have our convention on March 26. The first thing for us is to know where the national chairmanship of the party would be coming from, because that will determine the zoning of the other positions for the geopolitical zones.
“The president gave us a position on that, saying:‘I am reluctant to get involved in who will be the national chairman, but that all the candidates I am looking at are from the North-Central. We gave the president the details on the zoning formula because it was supposed to be sent to the progressives’ governors’ chair to ratify it. But, we didn’t hear anything. Then, we went to the president on March 1 to tell him that the zoning formula he signed has not been sent to us at the Progressives Governors’ Forum.
“We told him that there is another list circulating, with names for the party positions. We know that the list didn’t emanate from Mr President because he was reluctant to even nominate who will be the national chairman of the party. The president said ‘I am not contesting, but I want to hand over the party to strong leadership to ensure that it continues. I am not interested in who becomes the national chairman unlike 2019 when I was contesting.’
“But, we said to Mr President that all of us as APC governors have an influence on who becomes the state chairmen and ‘it is only normal and logical for us to give you (president) the opportunity to guide us on who you think we should support as the national chairman.’ We forced him literarily, but he said he didn’t want to do it.
“So, when the list started to go round with four names: deputy national chairman (North), deputy national chairman (South) and national secretary, we knew that there was something fishy and we went to see Mr President and he looked at the zoning formula we have sent to him before he signed and dated March 1. There was nothing to change because it was a fair list. The positions held in the last eight years in the North-Central are swopped to the South and the South-South. All the positions in the South-East went to the North-West.
“The president, during the meeting, told us his preferred candidate for the position of the chairman, but I can’t disclose that to you. The tradition of the APC is that the president decides who he is more comfortable to work with to be the chairman of the party and we try to achieve consensus around that person.
“It was the same case with John Odigie-Oyegun, Adams Oshiomhole and we are doing the same thing in this case. The reason why I cannot tell you who the president prefers is that we are doing the work of reconciling all the aspirants in the North-Central to step down for Mr President’s indicated candidate. We normally adopt consensus for the national chairmanship position and the national secretary. That is how it has always been when you look at the past national conventions.
“I am trying to give you the narrative of how things happen. I was at the second meeting on March 1, where the zoning was concluded. No doubt about the zoning. We said convention committees must be set up. In that meeting, the president gave three directives.
He said:‘This is the zoning formula that is fairest with everyone. I will sit with all the aspirants from the North-Central and try to get them to agree to consensus around one candidate.’
“The President added: Thirdly that, swear in the state chairmen.
The state chairmen were elected one month ago and they are yet to be sworn in and the state executive committees have not been functioning.
He said they should fix a date and give notice for an emergency national executive committee meeting. In that meeting, Mai Mala Buni was not present.
But, one of the members of the caretaker committee, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, was there.
“Bello was mandated to pass this information to the caretaker committee to effect these directives. This was on March 1. When the president left for Kenya on Tuesday, no action was taken. The national chairman, Mai Mala Buni, travelled abroad on medical treatment and handed over to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello.”
According to the Kaduna State governor, it is a tradition in the APC to produce its chairman through consensus, with the rest of offices keenly contested for by party members. He said he and other APC leaders were working to fix all the issues in a number of state chapters, including Sokoto State, while assuring the party faithful that all machinery was being put in place to conduct the convention as scheduled.
He said 19 out of the 23 governors elected on the ticket of the APC were with Governor Bello to assist him in his current assignment.
Restating his plan not to contest for any elective office at expiration of his eight-year tenure as governor in 2023, el-Rufai, however, said he would act according to the wishes of President Buhari if he asks him to play any role because of the respect he has for the Nigerian leader.
When asked to speak on the performance of the APC administration since it came to power in 2015, with particular reference to insecurity, el-Rufai said the government has done well, when compared to the period of “the other party,” in government, even though, according to him, Nigerians expected the APC to have done better. He was confident that the APC would win the 2023 general election.
Expatiating why he and others did not intervene when things were going wrong in the APC leadership, the governor said: “Some of us have the capacity. It is just that some of us took the back seat and allowed things to get to this point. We believed that once you are elected, you should focus on governance and leave the party administration to those that are better at it. But, clearly it got to a point that something was going to go wrong and we had to do something. I am happy that people are now moving well.
“The caretaker committee has issued a notice for an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting. The president will join us virtually but the vice president, all the governors, the state chairmen of the party will all converge on the party’s headquarters and we will take certain decisions that will lay a very solid foundation for the convention taking place on March 26,” he said.
el-Rufai decried the tendency by some politicians to find it difficult to moderate ambition where it clashed with the overall interest of their political parties “Politicians always have ambitions but the ambition should not be destructive. When your ambition will have the likelihood of destroying the entire party that many of us laboured for years to build, that ambition is not realistic or reasonable.
“The president was disappointed that people will be playing with the constitution of the party and the laws of the country and put the entire party, a party that has governors in 22 states, deputy governor in one state, at risk. And he said we must take whatever steps that are legally necessary to restore order,” the Kaduna State governor said.
He further said he, alongside others, are in Abuja and will not leave until after the convention, in order to put the party in order and on a sound footing.
Dismissing the possibility of a constitutional or legal jigsaw when Buni, who said was currently on a medical trip abroad, returns, el-Rufai said: “I don’t think it is necessary to remove members of the CECPC. Mai Mala Buni has more or less stepped aside by handing over to Governor Sani Bello. I can assure you that even when Mai Mala Buni returns to the country, he is assuming no position except as governor of Yobe State, which is his substantive position and that is always there.”
He said the CECPC had already taken action against the national secretary, but declined to give details, promising that “The CECPC will explain that decision in due time.”